Teams Create Video Games in 48 Hours at LSU as Part of Global Game Jam

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More than 70 gaming enthusiasts, coders and digital artists recently converged on LSU’s Digital Media Center for a hackathon to create video games from the ground up in only 48 hours.

After two days of nearly nonstop work, the teams of student, amateur and professional developers had created 13 games spanning a wide range of styles — all built around this year’s theme of “transmission.”

Their efforts were part of the Global Game Jam, the world’s largest game-creation event, designed to foster innovation, experimentation and collaboration among developers of all backgrounds around the world. Last year’s event included 700 locations in 95 countries and yielded more than 7,000 games in a single weekend. The 2018 event took place Jan. 26-28.

Marc Aubanel, director of LSU Digital Media Arts & Engineering, says the two-day time constraint, while daunting, gives game developers freedom to experiment and make changes quickly — a contrast to what is often a years-long and tedious process to release a game commercially.

“This is an incredibly slow art form. You get very few chances to iterate, make mistakes and improve,” Aubanel says. “The Game Jam is a way of forcing a completely artificial constraint on a team so they have to think really cleverly and really fast about how they solve a problem. They go from concept from finished game in 48 hours, so there’s a ton of learning that happens.”

WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK

The latest event was LSU’s fourth time hosting a Global Game Jam event. Aubanel says the Digital Media Center is one of the few locations in Baton Rouge capable of hosting it.

“It’s hard to organize outside of an academic setting because in 48 hours you need a lot of space and a lot of technology,” he says. “It’s either going to be a tech company or a university that does something like this because of the infrastructure requirements.”

Once the theme was revealed, the 13 teams set up temporary development shops in conference rooms and corridors throughout the LSU facility. Organizers encouraged participants to eat and sleep appropriately during the event, but many were so focused on the task that they slept on-site while teammates worked on the games.

“There was someone awake working on our game the entire time. Some of us would take little cat naps for two or three hours, but pretty much someone has been working on it the whole time,” says AIE Lafayette digital art student Keith Parker, who served as art director for a 12-person team that created Hot Potato Brain, a game that imagines players as human test subjects trying to escape a classified government facility. Players switch between control of several characters in order to solve simple, room-based puzzles.

Parker said that as an artist with limited coding skills, working with seasoned programmers on the game was a valuable experience that offered important insights into the overall development process.

“I’m happy with the learning experience because the dynamic was very different than experiences that I have had,” he says. “I’ve haven’t been studying this for that long, so this has been an eye-opening experience for me. I’m going to do it next year.”

ATTRACTING CREATORS OF VARIED BACKGROUNDS

The Global Game Jam encourages people of all kinds of backgrounds to participate and contribute, and the varied game-makers at the LSU location were a reflection of that spirit.

Participants included seasoned developers like Adam Byrd and Josh Parnell with Baton Rouge-based game development company Procedural Reality, who created Debug.Break, a 2D hockey-style game in which players can hack the game in their favor to defeat their opponent. Players can teleport the puck, resize the goals, shrink the enemy and alter the game physics in other ways.

The team was able to leverage a lightweight game engine developed by Procedural Reality for commercial purposes to wrap up its Game Jam offering well before the deadline, while other teams were sweating it out in the final minutes. “We just wrote the game on top of that, so we were able to blaze through it pretty quickly,” Byrd says.

Global Game Jam also supports the creation of non-digital games, a rule one local team took advantage of to create a zombie-themed board game called Dead Transmission, in which players are stuck in a zombie apocalypse with a broken radio transmitter and must find replacement pieces to make a call for help. Along the way they encounter obstacles, zombies and other survivors with the same goal.

The four-person team included a board-game enthusiast majoring in animal sciences at LSU, as well as developers with digital game experience. “The developmental process is the same, it’s just the medium that you’re using is different,” says Spencer Bogran, an LSU digital art major who worked on the game. “Instead of worrying about code we had to worry about the construction of the actual materials.”

PASSING ON THE KNOWLEDGE

All of the games created at LSU or any of the hundreds of sites around the world are available available for download.

Not only are the executable files available, but so are all the assets and source code, which can help other developers learn how each game was made and apply those techniques to future projects.

Aubanel says overall the quality of the games produced at the Game Jam has improved as developers have gained experience, although new and novice developers are always encouraged to participate in the event. “They’re much better this year than they were last year,” he says. “Now this is their second, third or fourth jam, so they’re getting good.”

While the organizers for the LSU event highlight games that excel in specific areas such as gameplay or art design, the overall vibe is more one of collaboration than competition, Aubanel says.

“It’s meant to be an experience, not a competition,” he says,. “The whole idea is just doing it.”